Coronavirus and its impact on family law

Not only has Covid-19 significantly impacted the way we work, shop and socialise but the virus has greatly impacted how we live day to day. For many families and individuals this has caused great stress, uncertainty and fear.

Those who work within the Family Law sector have been keen to voice the issues that surround the act of self-isolation and how this isn’t a straight forward process for everyone.

Help and advice is available for anyone who feels they are in danger or simply cannot separate themselves from a toxic environment.

Coronavirus and Divorce

Self-isolation is currently being compared to times such as Christmas or the summer holidays, in which many parents or couples are home from work for a longer period of time and therefore spend more time together.

For couples whose relationship may be breaking down, going to work and visiting friends and families is a chance to remove themselves from what could be a negative environment.

However, due to new rules set out by the Government, which advises everyone to continue social distancing and for anyone who can work from home to continue working from home, the pressure for couples and families to stay cooped up in the house together could cause a rise in divorces.

We have already seen similar situations in China, who have experienced a spike in divorces since February 24th. With limited places to go when an argument arises, even younger married couples who may have not lived together for very long before getting married are seeking a divorce.

Aside from the recent rise in divorces, for those who were already going through the proceedings of divorce before the stay at home measures took place, are now having to put certain arrangements on hold, as they cannot attend a proper court hearing. 

Other measures put in place for these types of scenarios including arranging for the proceedings to take place remotely, via video call, telephone or even by email.

For information on other ways to get a divorce, read Five ways to get a divorce.

Coronavirus and Domestic Abuse

The increasingly worrying impact of Covid-19 and self-isolation is the amount of individuals who could potentially be at more risk by staying at home, without the opportunity to see friends and families and be unable to find other places of safety and comfort.

Already we have seen a rise in domestic abuse incidents, which many authorities are claiming to be a result of several aspects caused by the Coronavirus. Many people have lost their jobs or had hours cut down and so the loss of income and money could cause frictions within households.

A similar trend as to the time of year in which many divorces take place, so does the number of domestic abuse cases, when people are spending more time with their families, primarily around the summer holidays and Christmas.

As the number of domestic abuse cases rises during the pandemic, many food delivery services have been asked to pay attention to any behaviour they believe to be unusual and potentially dangerous.

Unfortunately, as much as isolation is intended to do good for everyone, it is an outcome for those experiencing domestic abuse to have less opportunities to reach out and seek help.

If you’re in immediate danger, you should dial 999. Organisations such as Refuge Against Domestic Violence and helplines are trying to do more as they understand the risks and dangers many could face whilst staying at home in these unprecedented times. Individuals experiencing domestic abuse should not stay quiet and should reach out for help if they fear they cannot contact friends and families.

Anyone experiencing domestic abuse can apply online to get an injunction against the person who is being abusive. This can either protect you or your child from being harmed or threatened (a non-molestation order) or it can determine who can live in the family home or enter the surrounding area (an occupation order). For more information, read Domestic violence legal remedies.

Coronavirus and Child Arrangements

Child arrangements during this current time for many have been fairly uncertain. A lot of parents were concerned that child arrangements would not be met and a fear that many would not be able to see their children due to the social distancing guidelines.

The Government has clarified that where parents do not live in the same household, children (under 18) can be moved between their parents’ homes. However, parents should decide whether it is in the child’s best interest to travel between households during this period. In making this decision, they should take various considerations into account, including the child’s health, the risk of infection and the presence of any vulnerable individuals in the households.

Where parents came to the conclusion to allow their child to travel between households, it is important to ensure that both households are healthy and not experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus. If they’re displaying symptoms, they should self-isolate. 

If a Child Arrangement Order has been made, continual compliance is expected unless it’s contrary to the Government’s advice. An Order that contradicts the government’s guidelines can be varied temporarily via parents’ joint agreement. Where parents are having difficulty reaching an agreement, and if ill-health is involved which could be a risk to their children, a parent can unilaterally make the decision to vary the order, to ensure the safety and health of the children. Alternatively, they may make an application to the courts to vary the existing Order.

How will family law continue?

We can’t pinpoint how long this situation will last and what implications it would have on our daily lives.

Naturally as a result of the precautions taken to protect the country, many practitioners will find themselves unable to go about their normal processes and ways of contacting clients. Nevertheless, remote working tools have been of great help during this period.